U.S. helped Iraq start bioweapons program
September 30, 2002 2:46 PM   Subscribe

U.S. helped Iraq start bioweapons program

"I don't think it would be accurate to say the United States government deliberately provided seed stocks to the Iraqis' biological weapons programs,'' said Jonathan Tucker, a former U.N. biological weapons inspector. "But they did deliver samples that Iraq said had a legitimate public health purpose, which I think was naive to believe, even at the time."

" -isn't iraq just another case of blowback and is anyone asking what the next round of "blowback" will be if we go in again?
posted by specialk420 (35 comments total)
Former U.N. biological weapons inspector? What does he do now? What makes him an educated pundit, aside from the fact that he participates in quotable conjecture about the United States' role in Iraq?

Does he have any evidence or support for his theories?
posted by oissubke at 2:50 PM on September 30, 2002

oissubke: the article seems to refer to invoices and other government documents - but who knows? The Iraqi debate in general seems to be an unsettling discussion of "what is evidence?"

Anyhoo, this is an interesting post, though not very surprising. I'm not as well informed as many here at mefi, but my gut reaction is that only two countries have the infrastructure to provide biological weapons: The US and Russia.

The US has not been very careful about who it sends weapons too, or what kind of weapons are sent. This is a problem that the US will be dealing with well beyond Iraq.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:03 PM on September 30, 2002

oissubke -

did you read the article?

the facts are not disputed.
posted by specialk420 at 3:04 PM on September 30, 2002

From this link:
Jonathan B. Tucker directed the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program (CBWNP) at CNS and was based in the Center's Washington, D.C. office. Before joining the CNS staff in March 1996, he served with the Department of State, the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. In February 1995, he was a United Nations biological weapons inspector in Iraq. Dr. Tucker holds a B.S. in biology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a concentration in defense and arms control studies. In 1999-2000, he was a visiting scholar at Stanford's Hoover Institution. He is the editor of Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (MIT Press, 2000) and the author of Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001).


Areas of Expertise:
Chemical and Biological Weapons:

Biological Warfare (e.g. Anthrax, Smallpox, VEE)
Biological Weapons Convention

Chemical & Biological Weapons Terrorism Case Studies
Chemical Weapons Convention
Chemical Weapons Terrorism
Nerve Agents (e.g., VX, Sarin)
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Terrorism:

Historical Trends in WMD Terrorism
Responses to WMD Terrorism
Understanding the Threat of WMD Terrorism
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:05 PM on September 30, 2002

Aside from the fact that he has his finger on the button of the majority of the operable nukes in the world, what makes Dubya an authority, or educated pundit, about Iraq's nuclear capability? Does he have any evidence or support for his theories?

You know, if you'd have read the link, you might have your answers. I want mine answered before my elected (big chuckle) representative in the White House goes in to blow the living shit out of another country, in a quest to depose one man for being evil: possibly possessing and developing the technology that we gave him.
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:07 PM on September 30, 2002

... what makes Dubya an authority, or educated pundit, about Iraq's nuclear capability? Does he have any evidence or support for his theories?

People keep brining this up. The answer is that it is very difficult to get "evidence", because - in delibrate violation of the Security Council Resolutions that he accepted in order to stay in power - Saddam Hussain has not permitted weapons inspectors access to Iraq for over four years. The issue at the root of "Dubya's" threats to use force is that it is not possible to gather the evidence you are asking for. And it took Bush's threats to cause Saddam to now be again at the table discussing letting inspectors back in.
posted by MidasMulligan at 3:16 PM on September 30, 2002

Which Dubya is now prepared to veto. Truly, I am confounded.
posted by dash_slot- at 3:25 PM on September 30, 2002

For anyone who wants another take on US involvement in the development of Iraq's arsenal, Alan Friedman's book, Spider's Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq is a decent read, if slightly dated and sensationalist.

Mark Phythian covers the same ground from a British perspective in Arming Iraq: How the US and Britain Secretly Built Saddam's War Machine.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 3:25 PM on September 30, 2002

The answer is that it is very difficult to get "evidence",

So we're going to kick ass, and "Let's Roll" just in case, right? And what are we going to say afterwards, "whoops, guess you really didn't have nuke tech, but that's okay. Your people are better off now that we've driven their leader into hiding with a lot of his money to fund nefarious operations, because they're now free to work low wage jobs on Iraqi/American oil fields"? Attacking a country because we think they might be doing something we might not like in the future isn't very moral or rational, if proof exists that we have done things we may not like in the future (present) and then blame another (Saddam) for our fuck-up.
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:26 PM on September 30, 2002

The US has not been very careful about who it sends weapons too, or what kind of weapons are sent. This is a problem that the US will be dealing with well beyond Iraq.

According to William Safire, it may be about to get worse.
posted by homunculus at 3:33 PM on September 30, 2002

The way the United States government collects information about other countries and governments is through espionage and information gathering by the military and the CIA. I think we spend enough money on these pursuits that some evidence could be brought forth. Of course this is the same CIA that said that the Saddam Regime would collapse in 6 months after the Gulf War, and miscalculated the might of the Soviet Union.
posted by Eekacat at 3:33 PM on September 30, 2002

Wulfgar!, do you think somebody can put together a list of those issues where it is important to act, even in the absence of evidence, because the risk of being wrong is too great (global warming) and those issues where, despite the grave risks of being wrong, definite evidence is paramount (Iraq)?

Actually, I am against attacking Iraq, but for reasons that have nothing to do with the evidence available.
posted by obfusciatrist at 3:33 PM on September 30, 2002

dash: Which Dubya is now prepared to veto. Truly, I am confounded.

The answer is war on Iraq. What's the question?
posted by goethean at 3:36 PM on September 30, 2002

Wulfgar!, do you think somebody can put together a list of those issues where it is important to act, even in the absence of evidence, because the risk of being wrong is too great (global warming) and those issues where, despite the grave risks of being wrong, definite evidence is paramount (Iraq)?

Yes, I do, and I have suggested as much here on the ' Filter. Do I think that that is the path the American Administration is following? Not even close. It appears as a remarkable necessity of our political system that short-sighted solutions are good answers. Whether that's true or not is debatable at another time. This post clearly suggests that short term solutions have unpredictable results, and we'd be best not to clean up our messes at the expense of those who come after.
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:49 PM on September 30, 2002

in deliberate violation of the Security Council Resolutions that he accepted in order to stay in power - Saddam Hussain has not permitted

I've re-read this about 8 times now, and as slow as I am, I've finally reached the conclusions which really bother me about this statement. The UN security council can't force anyone to abdicate (What leader of a nation on the council would allow this?). Nor, to the best of my reading, has the security council ever called for the removal of a world leader by edict alone. There was never an edict by the UNSC that called for the removal of Saddam from power if he didn't comply with resolutions concerning Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War. Why are Americans so concerned with the idea that we have to remove this leader of his country because he doesn't comply with the world's idea of punishment (the American idea of punishment?).

Like a good parent, we've given Saddam the tools we thought he needed to survive, and like a poor parent, we now demand that he acknowledge his debt to us? Are we really so foolish? I'm sorry there, Bill Cosby American Bomb-them-until-they-break, but we didn't bring Saddam into this world for our pleasure, and we can't take him out for our gain; not and still think ourselves the good parent.
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:16 PM on September 30, 2002

goethean: how's about...
- "What'll be the best way of guaranteeing more terrorist attacks on US soil?"

"How and where was the Bush Doctrine - that the US must assert it's dominance anywhere in the world, anytime, and eliminate all potential competitors - first demonstrated?"

"How did US military suppliers end the recession & US government disguise the deficit caused by the 2002 tax cuts for the top 10% US taxpayers?"
posted by dash_slot- at 4:18 PM on September 30, 2002

Wulgar!: spot on!
posted by dash_slot- at 4:19 PM on September 30, 2002

"What event signalled the emergence of the First American Empire?
[I edited that one out of my above comment: 5 minutes later I found this] -"This war, should it come, is intended to mark the official emergence of the United States as a full-fledged global empire, seizing sole responsibility and authority as planetary policeman.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:08 PM on September 30, 2002

Does he have any evidence or support for his theories?

None that I can find. It's speculation. I could write an article saying tha George Bush sent his underwear and keys to his hotel room to Saddam Hussein, but that doesn't make it true.

but we didn't bring Saddam into this world for our pleasure, and we can't take him out for our gain;

Hussein and Kim Jong-Il of the DPRK have a few little things in common; they are both fascist dictators, they think very little of their countrymen, they like to play with and sell very dangerous toys, and they are both sworn enemies of the U.S.

The idea that somehow the U.S. is responsible for Hussein's creation is, although humorous in its lofty self-absorption, is also humorously false. It's also another way to blame the U.S. for everything, including the law of gravity.

Hussein has made his own choices, and now he's going to have to live with them.
posted by hama7 at 5:17 PM on September 30, 2002

The UN security council can't force anyone to abdicate (What leader of a nation on the council would allow this?).

Of course it cannot force anyone to abdicate. It did not try to. What happened was that Saddam Hussain lost a war that he started. He invaded a country - and he was beaten back. The Gulf War alliance had him on the run, had his forces completely disorganized, and an uprising within his country had already taken control of most of the provinces ... i.e., he had lost a war, and been deposed by his own population. The people who beat him back could have simply finished the job - chased him down, and gotten rid of the rest of his troops (who were surrendering to CNN reporters).

Negotiations began, however, and the result was that the US and it's partners agreed to withdraw - instead of pressing their advantage - in exchange for Saddam's compliance with the Security Council Resolutions. In other words, he surrendered - accepting the terms of the UN Resolutions instead of suffering the fate of most of those who lose wars they've started (which is generally imprisonment or death).

You are incorrect in thinking the UN was forcing a sovereign leader to abdicate - instead, they were permitting the loser in a war to retain power rather than being pursued and toppled. The actual text from the Resolution reads:

"33. Declares that, upon official notification by Iraq to the Secretary-General and to the Security Council of its acceptance of the provisions above, a formal cease-fire is effective between Iraq and Kuwait and the Member States cooperating with Kuwait in accordance with resolution 678 (1990);"

I would encourage you to read the entire Resolution (the bulk of the conditions are in Resolution 687).

As Bush, and Blair, and a number of others have recently pointed out, most of the provisions have been broken - many of them repeatedly - by Hussain. He almost immediately started pushing to see what he could get away with ... and until now, the answer has pretty much been ... well, that he can get away with almost anything he wants to.

The UN did not pass a resolution requiring Saddam to abdicate - Saddam invaded his next door neighbor (what about the sovereignty of Kuwait?). He was permitted to retain power in his own country only by agreeing to conditions. He agreed - and then ignored most of those provisions (and arms inspections are only a small piece of what he agreed to).

A decade of evidence has made it clear (to me, anyway) that he understands one thing alone: force. Bush doesn't want to go to war. It is absurd to think that - it is a huge political risk. But if the UN Resolutions that everyone seems so fond of are to have any meaning at all in the future, enforcement of those Resolutions is required.
posted by MidasMulligan at 5:20 PM on September 30, 2002

SpecialK, to consider this a case of "blowback" is certainly a stretch. A couple of important and overlooked points:

1. The ATCC is NOT a governmental entity, it is a non-profit organization that provides scientists worldwide with material for biological research. This was the group that provided the materials that could have been adapted for weapons use. They are no more "Uncle Sam" than the ACLU.

2. The CDC, which IS a governmental entity, was the apparent source of the botulinum toxin and the West Nile Virus. I am certain the toxin sample provided would not have been of large enough size to threaten any more than a small room full of people. The article doesn't claim that the botulinum bacteria was provided. The West Nile Virus is not really a bioweapon, unless, that is, you are waging war on retirement homes and immunodeficiency patients. In normal, healthy people it causes symptoms like the common cold.

Unfortunately, the hack(s) who wrote this article glossed over a number of important distinctions and got you all excited in the process. It doesn't matter, anyways, since the getting excited seems to be what matters.
posted by shoos at 5:21 PM on September 30, 2002

MM: Good post. I hadn't actually read the UN resolutions against Iraq. But I do have to quibble on your opinion that W doesn't want to go to war. The president has made no attempt to peacefully resolve the issue. He demanded enforcement of the UN resolutions or he would send in US military forces. When Saddam capitulated to W's demands the US cynically responded by writing a new resolution that they expect Saddam to reject. Iraq is willing to readmit weapons inspectors, but the US is attempting to stop the UN from setting up a inspection regime. If W doesn't want a war, why doesn't he stand by his original position and enforce the existing resolutions?
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:37 PM on September 30, 2002

RE: UN resolutions
"The only way that this is going to succeed is, first and foremost, if Iraq makes the decision to open up and to disarm.

If Iraq doesn't make the decision to open up and disarm, we're always going to have cheat and retreat. We're always going to have inspections that are more like pulling teeth. But if Iraq makes the decision to disarm, then the inspectors, by going everywhere, could verify that and Iraq would want them to, if that's truly a decision they've made, so the point, I think, is first of all, the Council needs to set forth in clear terms what Iraq has to do to demonstrate its desire to disarm. And that is what we have put in this resolution. If Iraq is truly interested in doing that, these tools and mechanisms that we're putting in the resolution could be used to demonstrate that it was doing that. But we need to be able to go anywhere, we need to make sure this is not a continuing pattern of deceit. I would have to say that given what Iraq has been saying over the weekend, at some points they talk about unfettered access, at other points they are rejecting in advance a resolution that would do that. So I think it's quite clear that Iraqi officials still don't understand. They just don't get it in terms of what they have to do and what this is all about. This is about Iraq's disarmament inconsistent with UN resolutions, and if Iraq wants to demonstrate that, this is a way of their doing that. "
posted by sheauga at 5:39 PM on September 30, 2002

shoos: Do you think the ATCC needed the Govt. to grant export licences for the samples they posted to Iraq? After all, they would have been aware of the potential weaponisation that could occur with the material.
posted by dash_slot- at 6:10 PM on September 30, 2002

The Saddam in Rumsfeld’s Closet

Five years before Saddam Hussein’s now infamous 1988 gassing of the Kurds, a key meeting took place in Baghdad that would play a significant role in forging close ties between Saddam Hussein and Washington. It happened at a time when Saddam was first alleged to have used chemical weapons. The meeting in late December 1983 paved the way for an official restoration of relations between Iraq and the US, which had been severed since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

With the Iran-Iraq war escalating, President Ronald Reagan dispatched his Middle East envoy, a former secretary of defense, to Baghdad with a hand-written letter to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and a message that Washington was willing at any moment to resume diplomatic relations.

That envoy was Donald Rumsfeld.
posted by Babylonian at 6:28 PM on September 30, 2002

Here's Senator Byrd's remarks to the Senate. Byrd himself refers to articles in Newsweek and USA Today, which I'm too lazy to search for but which are presumably easily available. Also on Byrd's site is a signed letter from the CDC, so I'd say the evidence that this really happened is pretty strong.

Byrd describes the ATCC shipments as "US-approved," and it would be logical to assume that the ATCC had to go through some kind of national security filter before they started shipping anthrax all over the globe willy-nilly.
posted by whir at 7:24 PM on September 30, 2002

dash_slot: Yes, the law specified that before exporting the materials they would have needed approval from the Dept of Commerce.

Before the revisions of the Export Administration Regulations in the the mid-90's (several years after the ATCC shipments) the Dept's export controls were desultory.
posted by shoos at 9:01 PM on September 30, 2002

So, they knew. They were responsible. Thanks.
posted by dash_slot- at 9:45 PM on September 30, 2002

As an interesting aside to this thread, you might want to look at "Rebuilding America's Defenses" -- http://www.newamericancentury.org/publicationsreports.htm -- which has been widely described (New Yorker Mag., Wash. Post and elsewhere) as the neocon guiding foreign policy vision which is now ascendant in the Bush administration. Besides advocating an American world empire created through military force, on page 72 of the document (one of the main authors, by the way, was Paul Wolfowitz) you will come across the sentence "...advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm
of terror to a politically useful tool." From the context, it's hard to tell if the authors are advocating genocide or not. But the ambiguity seems a bit creepy to me.
posted by troutfishing at 9:58 PM on September 30, 2002

posted by dash_slot- at 10:12 PM on September 30, 2002

[On consideration: potential for 'blowback' is enormous here. In light of the fact that the US (& by extension, I guess, it's armed forces) hosts examples of virtually every 'genotype' there is in the world, I can't imagine that they could release bio-weapons without injury to home troops. I hope.]
posted by dash_slot- at 10:22 PM on September 30, 2002

dash_slot: I think the issue of weapons release is more complicated. For instance, some medical sleuths seem to think that part of the Gulf War Syndrome may be due to overuse and/or misuse of prophylactic medications. Those medications, in turn, were intended to reduce the effects of exposure to chemicals aerosolized by bomb strikes on weapons stores. In addition, it has been posited that many of those seeking treatment after the Gulf War suffered from exposure to aerosolized DU munitions residue.

I'll reccommend another Ramsey Clark book, this one being concerned with corollary effects of DU munitions use. If you want to see more book recommendations, I got lots. There's a boatload of good material available.

Anyhow, my point here is that there is a thin line between any of these factors and those behaviors we normally call use of chemical weapons. Say what you will about isues of intent, the effects in the 300,000 US servicemen who sought medical treatment for conditions contracted in February 1991 were the same whether the exposure was intentional or not.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 11:13 PM on September 30, 2002

dash_slot: yes, darling, the US government was responsible. Just like they were for the destruction of the Murrah building because of they in effect "approved" sale of ammonium nitrate to Timothy McVeigh. Oh, and they are pretty much responsible for all internet child porn, because of that arpanet thing they were involved in. They just gave the internet away to child pornographers, in effect saying "go ahead and do your thing with it."
posted by shoos at 9:01 AM on October 1, 2002

shoos: your sarcasm is unwarranted.
- how did the govt. 'approve' of the sale of fertilisers to McVeigh?
- if the pornographers write to the agency supervising investigations into internet pornography, and get approval, then the govt. would be responsible. that is more accurate an analogy.
posted by dash_slot- at 6:43 PM on October 1, 2002

Unless I'm mistaken, you were placing blame on the US gov (via the Dept of Commerce) for insufficiently controlling the export of materials potentially useful for use in WMD, such as certain bacteria. You said they were therefore "responsible" for Iraq getting anthrax, etc. from the ATCC.

I suggested, with uncalled-for sarcasm, that they were furthermore responsible for the OK City building bombing because their controls on the distribution of ammonium nitrate were even more lax. McVeigh's fertilizer retailer had no need to ask anyone for permission before selling the stuff to him. Hell, McVeigh himself could have become a legitimate fertilizer distributorhimself if he had a couple of bucks to invest. And all this in spite of the fact that anyone in the US with a bachelors in chemistry or access to the internet would have been able to build a fertilizer bomb, and that there's a large governmental agency (ATF) whose main responsibilies include exercising federal regulations on explosives.

Like I said, the ATCC sales were made long before the EAR was given substance regarding bioweapons materials. Your Oct, 2002 20-20 hindsight makes being critical easy, doesn't it?

Iraq, by the way, apparently got help with its various and sundry WMD efforts from other quarters (look under International Arms Trade).
posted by shoos at 12:28 PM on October 2, 2002

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